Children Not yet Recovered Learning From Covid Times

New figures released on Monday by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have revealed a troubling reality - the number of children worldwide who are deprived of any form of education has reached a staggering 250 million. This marks an increase of six million children compared to previous data, and it is a deeply concerning trend.

Have children recovered learning of what they lost during Covid 19 pandemic?  The answer is no, if a new study published today in Human Nature Behaviour is to be believed. The researchers say that each year during the pandemic, school children lost one third of what they would have learned – and this has still not been recovered.

In the paper, A systematic review and meta-analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning, the authors said that they found a substantial overall learning deficit, which arose early in the pandemic and persists over time. They said that students lost out on about 35% of what they would have learned in a normal school year, which confirms initial concerns the pandemic would cause substantial harm to student learning, the authors said.

The authors note that Maths learning was affected as well as children from lower income groups, ‘The pandemic has exacerbated educational inequalities between children  from different socio-economic backgrounds, which were already large before the pandemic.

Lead study author, Dr Bastian Betthäuser, an associate member of Oxford’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention (DSPI), notes; “Many people hoped that, after children, teachers, and parents had time to adjust to the restrictions imposed during the pandemic, children would be able to recover the learning lost…Worryingly, the evidence suggests, large learning deficits remain.”

“’On the positive side, teachers, children and parents were successful in preventing early learning deficits from growing even larger as the pandemic continued,” he said.


Study co-author Dr Per Engzell,  an associate member of Nuffield College, says, ’The first months of the pandemic were very disruptive for learning progress. Teachers, parents and children were not prepared for the closure of schools. On top of school closures, children’s ability to learn is likely to have been reduced by lockdowns and the associated economic uncertainties of many families.

According to the study, the pandemic also reinforced learning inequality at the global level. Co-author Dr Anders Bach-Mortensen, the Carlsberg Foundation visiting fellow at DSPI, notes, ’Children in poorer countries lost out on more learning than their peers in richer countries. Low-income countries were already struggling with a learning crisis before the pandemic. The pandemic is likely deepening this learning crisis and reversing past progress.’


The study urges policy action to address setbacks in children’s learning. Dr Betthäuser says, ‘Some countries have already invested substantial resources into such policies, but we need more evidence to understand their effectiveness. If these policies prove effective, and if countries continue to invest in them, the pandemic could be a window of opportunity to improve the education that we provide for our children and to reduce educational inequality.


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